Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Book Review: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

As The Common Man sits watching the Twins/White Sox grudge match, and praying to the baseball gods for another big win, he figures it's a good time to review Chris Aschburner's new book, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Minnesota Twins History. After all, The Common Man is one of the world's biggest Twins fans, and figures that nothing could be more exciting than to simultaneously write about and watch his favorite team. However, The Common Man has a hard time being excited about Aschburner's book, as he made the single subject that interests The Common Man most uninteresting, redundant, and trivial.

The most important word, it turns out, in Aschburner's title is "moments." Aschburner comes from a newspaper background and it shows as he reduces 47 years of Minnesota Twins history to a series of vignettes, the majority of which seem to deal with the 1987 and 1991 teams. What's more, the vignettes are out of order and splattered throughout the book under various headings that seem incredibly arbitrary ("The Good," for instance, includes only Kirby Puckett, the '87 Champions, and the '91 Champs; "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" includes short articles on Calvin Griffith, the '76 batting title that Rod Carew narrowly lost, Minnesota all stars, and interesting HR in Twins history). It's like reading a collection of newspaper articles strung together in haphazard, nonsensical fashion, so that there's no sense of a narrative.

For any Twins fan without a thorough background on the Twins and their history, the book's stories feel disconnected with the larger Twins history, and impossible to place. It's less a history and more a "here's stuff I remember about the team I covered forever." Also, there's a strange discussion of the old Senators team that discusses great old players from the Washington days, but that feels entirely out of place in a book that spends the rest of its time hyper-focused on the Twins.

More disappointing, however, is that Aschburner gives short shrift to the Twins pennant winning team in 1965, and the strong clubs in the late '60s and early '70s. Yes, he covers players like Killebrew, Oliva, Carew, Chance, Hall, and Blyleven, and discusses the old Metropolitan Stadium, but Aschburner refuses to go into depth about any of those teams, and how their success helped solidify baseball in Minnesota for the next 30 years. To exclude them is criminal, particularly because far more Twins fans are familiar with the teams since the late-80s and need a primer on the early years.

Aschburner also hits all the safe high notes, championing the inductions of Bert Blyleven, Tony Oliva, Jack Morris to the Hall of Fame, rips on what it's safe to rip on (the Metrodome, Ron Davis, Terry Felton), and undersells such egregious parts of Twins history as their treatment of Jim Eisenreich, the potential racism of Calvin Griffith that led (in part) to the trade of Rod Carew, the cheapness and rat-finkery of Carl Pohlad (Aschburner almost omits the contraction saga entirely), and the struggles of Tom Kelly to adapt to young players toward the end of his managerial career (amazingly, in a book of notes about famous Twins faces, there's no section that highlights the man who guided them to two world championships and led and personified them for 15 seasons. He gets 3/4 of a paragraph.).

So, what Aschburner presents here is a book that's too familiar for the informed fan but too scant for the casual fan. And it's worth neither of their time and effort. Because, and The Common Man says this as someone inherently interested in all things Twins, it's freaking boring. The book jumps around too much to build any kind of momentum and ends abruptly on a section called "Pain and Suffering." Indeed, in a strange book, perhaps its strangest moment is the closing line, in which Jim Eisenreich brags "if I had been able to play, Kirby would've been in right field when he came up." And perhaps that strange comment out of left field (or center, as it were) is the best way to sum up a book full of such random disjointedness. And the best way to end this review, except to say "don't buy this book." And "if The Common Man was born in 1940 and was any good at playing baseball, Harmon Killebrew wouldn't have had a chance."

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